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Games and Pastimes of the Maori



Also known as koke and niu; a child's pastime, but in some cases the element of contest entered into it. Procuring one of the broad leaves of the wharangi (Brachyglottis repanda) and a culm of karetu (Hierochloe redolens), or some similar grass, the base of the culm was thrust into the petiole of the leaf, to act as a balancing agent thereto. Fig. 47 (p. 167) illustrates this simple toy of the children of olden days. The manipulator, standing on an eminence, holds the upper part of the leaf between thumb and two fingers, and casts the leaf from him, launching it horizontally. If well balanced and launched, it will sail forward for a considerable distance ere descending to earth, and its descent is very gradual. In some cases these leaves were launched from a high river bank so as to reach the further bank. The following jingle, or karakia (charm) as it is termed, repeated by children when casting the topa, was collected in the Tuhoe district:—

"Topaina atu ra taku topa nei
Ki tai nui, ki tai roa
Koki kokere whai
Tohi a nuku, tohi a rangi
To kai topa rere
Ki o rua whangai."

Fig. 47 A Child's Toy termed topa, koke and niu. See p. 167 Sketch by Miss E. Richardson

The topa or koke of Tuhoe was termed niu by the Ngati-Porou folk, and it was sometimes used as an act of divination in war time. When the manipulator launched his leaf into the air, he recited the following words immediately prior to launching it:—

"Niu atu taku niu ki tera pu tutu e tu mai ra
Kokere, kokere whai ao ki te ao marama."

page 168

Should the leaf turn sideways and fall without making a good flight, it was viewed as a bad omen. The Maori sometimes employed curiously trivial means of divination.

Another peculiar formula repeated when launching the topa is here given. Apparently it served as a sort of love charm, and had nothing to do with divination:—

"Niua atu, niua atu taku niu ki te wahine e tu mai ra. Mehemea ko wai ra ia. Mauria atu taku aroha ki a ia." (Glide along my niu to the woman yonder, whomever she may be; convey my love to her.) The operator also called upon the leaf to go directly to its object with the words, "Kia tika tonu to haere."

We note in the use of the word niu, as employed to denote a number of methods of divination, a curious and interesting fact. In Polynesia the coconut (niu) was widely employed in a simple divinatory ceremony in which the nut was twirled or spun (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. I, p. 47). The Maori has preserved the name of the coconut, but, owing to the fact that that useful palm does not grow in New Zealand, he has transferred the name to certain objects, sticks, etc., here used in certain divinatory acts. Owing to lapse of time he has forgotten the original application of the term.